The Ultimate Stuffed Cabbage

My mother made stuffed cabbage; my grandmother made stuffed cabbage. My earliest food memories involve stuffed cabbage (we Ruthenians call it holupki). And as you might expect, I have always preferred stuffed cabbage made exactly the way my mom and grandma made it -- beef and rice rolls in cabbage leaves cooked in sauerkraut and tomato juice.

When my first wife, who was Jewish, served me stuffed cabbage in sweet and sour sauce with raisins and brown sugar, I couldn't bring myself to eat it. Lebanese stuffed cabbage dolmas without the sauerkraut, Polish gulumki... none of it was quite right. When I made stuffed cabbage at home, I followed mom's holupki recipe

So imagine my shock when Tania, one of our friends from Bosnia, served up a pot of stuffed cabbage for Valentine's Day that tasted better than anything Mom or Grandma ever made.

There were smoked pork ribs layered in the pot, and the ground meat mixture had chunks of Hungarian bacon mixed in. The smoky pork flavor permeated every cabbage roll.

It tasted like sauerkraut, but I couldn't find any actual sauerkraut in it. It turns out the cabbage leaves themselves were fermented. I remember grandma telling me they used to throw a whole head of cabbage in the sauerkraut barrel when they made it at home. But you don't have to make your own kraut these days, Tania assured me. The Eastern European specialty -- the leaves of a whole head of cabbage that have been made into sauerkraut -- are available at Phoenicia and the Russian General Store.

Time to have Mom over for dinner.

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